July 2, 2013
Record Reactions: Camera Obscura – Desire Lines
Welcome to Record Reactions, where I share my thoughts on a new release from the worlds of popular and independent music. Today’s record is Desire Lines, the new LP from independent pop band Camera Obscura. Camera Obscura are a Glasgow, Scotland based group that formed in 1996. Desire Lines marks their first full-length in four years.
Going in, I wasn’t aware of much of this band’s storied history, but I know it has been marked by consistent quality and a fierce fan following. Diving in to this album, I was immediately pleased with the breezy instrumentation and the beautiful, relaxed vocals.
Even though everything is very relaxed and buoyant, one can still tell that Camera Obscura are a very tight group musically. This is evidenced most clearly on the freewheeling little jam Do It Again. It proves that everything on Desire Lines isn’t a slow crawl through a sunny park. Camera Obscura can bring the same lyrical interest and musical dexterity to any tempo or purpose.
And I am just in love the track that follows, Cri Du Coeur. I had a big pretentious paragraph all written out to discuss the complicated musical touches that Camera Obscura puts on this thing, but really all that matters is the compelling instrumentation with slight touches of eccentricity, all tied together by a sweeping, gorgeous orchestral touch.
It sounds that maybe on this record Camera Obscura were finally able to get their music worked out well enough that they were able to relax and explore thematically. These tracks have engrossing lyrics that explore the more complex themes of love and maturation. And once they are played above this lovely baseline of light, airy summer pop, everything shines a little brighter.
And that thematic mix is sometimes a little bit contradicting. The instrumentation is disarming – the opening track, This Is Love (Feels Alright), is so pleasant and breezy that you almost don’t notice the lyrics: “I could have slapped you in the face.” That song also features perhaps the most simple and most profound lyric of the whole record. When you hear Tracyanne Chapman sing the seemingly innocuous words “This is love/Feels alright,” it actually means something important.
On Troublemaker, I enjoy the crisp production, especially on the percussion. It gives the track a “ticky-tacky” feeling, and makes every drum hit punchier and more responsive. Elsewhere, such as on follow-up track William’s Heart, the instruments are more syrupy, lazing along as the lyrics lament heartbreak.
My only gripes with this record come when the band stays in their simple gears, and plod along, not exploring new ideas. But truthfully, these moments are few and far between. This record is full of new directions, multiple parts, and changes of pace. Only on a slower song like Fifth In Line To The Throne does anything begin to feel tired. But as far as the album as a whole is concerned, it adds no extra weight.
Heartbreak and similar feelings seem to show up in many places on this record. The music may be happy, and the band may historically be one of up sentiments, but throughout Desire Lines, themes instead include losing, growing out of, and replacing love. This record looks like a collection of carefree summer tracks, and it is. But, with a closer look, Desire Lines might in fact be the musical representation of when trouble hits those summer vibes. And when that happens, the summer is still beautiful, but it has a bit of an edge.
Camera Obscura, over the course of their 17 year career, has built up a reputation for being remarkably consistent. With every release, their unique brand of breezy, summery pop has connected with a new generation of adoring fans. But that connection is one that goes deeper than simple recognition. When fans like a Camera Obscura record, they fall in love with it. So, over these past four years, as tougher times have befallen the band, those fans stayed supportive and loving. And now, after coming through the darkness to find a brighter morning on the other side, Camera Obscura’s return is that much more triumphant. It is brighter, more colorful, but also more stark. It’s presented in plain terms, unapologetically. It’s just simple, emotional, and plainly entertaining music. And that’s what this band has always been about.
Favorite Tracks: This Is Love (Feels Alright), Troublemaker, Cri Du Couer
Least Favorite Track: Fifth in Line to The Throne
Remember these reviews are just my opinion, and that little number up there really doesn’t mean much! Have you heard this record? What did you think? Do you agree with me? If you would like to let me know your opinion, you can hit me up on my email, or tweet at me @RobinCopple1. I’m dying to know what you think!
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the flip side! Stay tuned.
Image Credit: Camera Obscura